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Petition Launched on White House Website Calling on Government of Turkey to Open Border with Armenia for Syrian Refugees

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

WH Petition_Syrian-Arm_01.11.13

Over the course of the last week, an Internet petition launched on the White House website has stirred emotions and reignited the debate surrounding Turkey’s nearly 20-year blockade of Armenia. In September 2011, the Obama administration launched “We the People” an online platform whereby American citizens can petition their government, a right enshrined in the First Amendment of US Constitution. According to the terms, a petition must reach 25,000 signatures within 30 days of its launch in order for it to receive a response from the administration. On January 15, the White House raised the signature threshold to 100,000 signatures. However, the new requirement applies only to new petitions and does not affect this petition.

[Click here to read the petition.]

The petition says that “There are 200,000 ethnic Armenians living in Syria and most of them want to escape to Armenia where they can feel safe, comfortable, find a job, a place to live and go to schools” and that the “road from Syria to Armenia goes through Turkey which closed its border with Armenia in 1993.” It concludes, “There shouldn’t be closed borders in the 21-st century.”

The petition was launched on January 5 and, as of this writing, has garnered over 500 signatures, five of which hail from Florida. The petition was initiated by Heritage Party activist Daniel Ioannisian in Armenia, ArmeniaNow first reported. There is no stipulation that the petition organizer be a US citizen, according to the Terms of Participation of the “We the People” platform.

Last year, Florida Armenians held events in Boca Raton and Hollywood, raising thousands of dollars to assist in the Syrian-Armenian relief effort.

According to the ArmeniaNow report, Petros Gasparian, who fled to Armenia amid intense fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, welcomes the initiative. He says that many want to drive to Armenia, but avoid the long travel through Georgia, which is also complicated by the need to get an extra visa and other difficulties.

“The road is very long and unfamiliar, while it’s only half a day’s drive from Aleppo to Yerevan [it takes about 35 hours to reach Armenia from Aleppo by way of Georgia]. That would be easy to all of us, but I’m not sure Turkey would display such an attitude,” Gasparian told ArmeniaNow.

Syria’s largest city, Aleppo is home to 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most descendants of survivors of the 1915 Turkish genocide of Christian Armenians. Today, thousands of Armenians have fled Syria, many seeking refuge in Armenia. According to immigration officials in Yerevan over 6,000 Syrian-Armenians have applied for citizenship in Armenia.

As Turkey’s failed policy to blockade Christian Armenia enters its second decade, the remnants of the Soviet Union continue to linger in the South Caucasus as the last iron curtain hangs over this remote but volatile region. Support for Armenian-Turkish rapprochement reached an all time high in 2009 when Armenia and Turkey signed Protocols to establish diplomatic relations. However, the accords stalled in the Turkish parliament and still await ratification.

Others hope, however, that modern-day Turkey can play a leadership role in the region and in the Syrian conflict in particular. Perhaps in all of the turmoil in the Middle East the Turkish government can display such leadership and open the border with Armenia, at least for refugees. Although a relatively small step in this context, it has the potential to move the ball forward in a larger one: Armenian-Turkish relations. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Armenia in July 2010, she was asked about the state of Armenian-Turkish relations and the next step in the process. She replied, “The ball is in the other [Turkey’s] court.”

Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @Taniel_Shant. 

*This story was updated on January 16, 2013.

Campaign 2012: A Review of Armenian-American Advocacy Organizations in Presidential Elections

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

Armenian-Americans have what few ethnic groups enjoy: knowledgeable, skilled, and effective leadership in Washington, DC. The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) are organized, principled and steadfast in protecting the rights of Armenian-Americans, developing a strong US-Armenia relationship, helping the people in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh achieve freedom and democracy, and overall successfully representing the community in the nations capital for over 40 years. When it comes to ethnic political organizations, the Assembly and the ANCA are models for other minorities in America.

Looking at the relationship of Armenian-American advocacy organizations with US Presidential campaigns, one must rely on the record of the ANCA, as the Assembly is an independent, non-profit organization that is not involved in electioneering or endorsing of political candidates at any level. Full disclosure: the author is a former employee of the Assembly.

On Monday, October 15, 2012 the ANCA, the largest partisan Armenian-American advocacy organization, reported that they would not be endorsing either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for President of the United States. “While we remain open to constructive engagement with both campaigns, we have no plans at this time to issue an ANCA endorsement this Presidential election cycle,” stated Chairman Ken Hachikian. The statement goes on to read, “the ANCA holds that neither Presidential candidate has earned the formal support of the Armenian American community.”

Why would the ANCA announce withholding a US presidential endorsement 22 days away from such an important election? A review of the ANCA’s statements over the last four years and their track record in US presidential contests over the last 20 years sheds light.

As rightfully noted in their 2012 announcement, the ANCA whole-heartedly endorsed Senator Barack Obama in 2008. After President Obama failed to live up to his campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President, his nomination and subsequent recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to serve as US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and the fact that neither President Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have met with Armenian-American community leaders, the ANCA had very little political room to maneuver in this regard. Further boxing themselves into a corner, the ANCA publicly slammed President Obama for the aforementioned policies, publicly lambasted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010 for failing to bring the Armenian Genocide Resolution to the floor for a vote (to be fair, this response was more warranted in 2007), then privately blasted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in front of a crowd assembled to commemorate the Armenian Genocide on Capitol Hill. Out of natural self-interest and after having their endorsement of President Obama thrown by the wayside, it was politically impossible for the ANCA to endorse President Obama for re-election.

In addition, it was interesting to read in the same ANCA press release that they are withholding an endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. An historical review of ANCA presidential endorsements over the last 20 years reveal that, when it comes to the race for the White House, only Democrats are worthy. Further analysis of the success rate of the ANCA’s presidential endorsements over the last 20 years, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired for the Armenian-American community; specifically, the two-time endorsement of Bill Clinton, who single-handedly blocked passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in his final year in office; John Kerry, who lost his challenge to Republican President George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, who pandered to the Armenian-American community above and beyond any of his predecessors. The ANCA withheld an endorsement in the 2000 presidential election as well.

However, what is most interesting is an omission from this years ANCA press release regarding Mitt Romney’s statements as Governor of Massachusetts. According to a February 2008 ANCA press release, Mitt Romney shared with them copies of his four Armenian Genocide proclamations during his time as Governor of Massachusetts. “While the first three statements during his four years in office properly described the Armenian Genocide as genocide, his fourth and final statement refrained from using the accurate terminology,” read the 2008 ANCA press release. Yet the October 15, 2012 press release goes on to state, “Mitt Romney…has no evident public record on Armenian issues from his four-year tenure as Governor or his two campaigns for the White House.” While it is true that Governor Romney has not issued a statement on Armenian-American issues in either of his campaigns for President, the ANCA’s 2012 statement withholding endorsement appears to be at odds with their own record.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the ANCA could not endorse President Obama for re-election and that the ANCA would not endorse Governor Romney for President of the United States.

Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.